To the Editor:
In their recent Commentary, Jonathan Miller-Lane and Tara Affolter wrote that “every teacher must have both a firm grasp on content and be able to make learning meaningful to the next generation of children” (“Toward Greater, More Equitable Access to an Excellent Education,” Jan. 19, 2011). For that, they ask us to rely on and enhance the place of liberal arts in the training of teachers. But there is another way to tackle the problem. Suppose we bifurcate content from critical thinking and assign the delivery of the former to the wonders of technology, while the latter becomes the primary job of a transformed teaching profession.
In the 21st century, even a well-trained individual cannot have the kind of knowledge that is available on the computer nor the capacity to disseminate that knowledge to a classroom full of students whose abilities range from the persistent underperformers to the underserved overachievers. Let students learn content adaptively, at their own pace, and let teachers help them connect the dots.
In Yuma, Ariz., at the Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School, the students divide their time between self-paced, individualized instruction on the computer and face-to-face time with teachers who are subject experts. There are six teachers and four coaches working with 243 6th to 12th graders, and the school ranks first in math and reading in its county. Assessments are embedded in the computer, and students know at all times how they are doing in the context of any given lesson. If they have a problem, they can summon a coach who helps them resolve it. The students are then divided into small groups with a teacher who explores with them what they have learned, what it means, how it can be applied, and what relevance it has to other things they know.
That’s the future of learning.
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the February 02, 2011 edition of Education Week as How Teachers and Technology Can Work for Students